After three rambunctious days on which Force 8 gales swept down from the north west, hurling massive tides so high up the beach first thing in the morning that there simply wasn’t any beach left on which we could run, summer has returned with a blaze of glory – a set fair sun in a cloudless Northumberland sky. What a week it has been for the weather, that favourite subject of the English. As soon as the Bank Holiday was over and the families with children had left to send them back to school, the area quietened perceptibly so, together with the autumnal murk, I was glad when Kemo Sabe lit the stove and we were free to jostle one another for a piece of it. Our seagulls had long flown and, we were sure, so had the house-martins. But then, yesterday afternoon, we found these . . .
The wind had abated, calm had supervened and we felt the warmth on our fur as we enjoyed a quiet beach, poking about the whelkery for shells thrown up by the storms. By the front door, on our return, as we jetisoned our shells on to the pile, we saw a tiny, tiny body, pink and perfect, directly below the nest under the eaves. Cast alongside were little white eggshells, neatly halved; as our eyes peered more closely we made out with developing alarm a total of four little creatures – all dead – all perfect and very recently hatched. Not a mark on them, just little tufts of down, here and there, as though dotted on with glue. Kemo Sabe picked them up gently and laid them out on a tissue. We wondered if their parents had abandoned them because of the recent appalling weather and consequent lack of food, perhaps even pushed them out the nest when they realised they’d better get going on their long, southward journey. This thought troubled and disturbed us deeply. What was clear was that the chicks had only appeared that day.
As the dusk began to encroach I sat beside Kemo Sabe as she waited at the window, gazing out at the various species of birds making the last of their day: dumpy woodpigeons lumbered about as best they could, a pair chatting on the electric wires across the road; a pair of gentle collared doves discussed their plans in affectionate lowered voices; starlings chattered on the telephone pole, beginning to think about lining up for a night’s rest together once they’d found their other hundred friends; over the farmyard along the road a kestrel hung attentively above the rooftops, gaze boring into the unfortunate rodent he had spotted far below him.
Every ten minutes or so some house-martins whirled back into view high above the houses, drawing attention by their chattering cries and characteristic aerobatics. Kemo Sabe and I waited and waited, wondering about the dead chicks, why they had fallen since no one could have entered that fastness, and what it all could possibly mean. Nature, verily, red in tooth and claw. And then, as if by magic, just about eight – just after sunset – she flew straight at us, her last midge caught, with an accomplished almost silent dive down and then up into the muddy little nest, from where she chirruped and settled, her little face peeping out. The on-off saga continues, and we record developments humbly. We are quite far north up here in Northumberland and, though these birds can stay until October, we were sure they had gone on their way. What ineffectual ornithologists we are. What mysteries lie within that nest, within that sweet, dark-blue, glistening little head, who has chosen to remain with us a little longer. And how glad we are.